Investigation underway into deadly restaurant blast in Qatar

Photos by Peter Kovessy

Updated to include names of the deceased Filipino victims.

A mid-morning explosion of a gas tank attached to the roof of a Turkish restaurant near Landmark Mall has killed at least 12 people 11 people and injured 31 35 others, government officials have said.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation. When the tank exploded, the force of the blast prompted a large section of the Istanbul Restaurant to collapse, trapping several victims who had to be unearthed by rescue crews, according to an official translation of an afternoon press conference.

There, officials from Civil Defense, the Internal Security Force (ISF), gas distributor Woqod – which owned the tank in question – and the country’s head of public security shared details about what happened and what lies ahead.

Four of the victims died on the scene, with the rest succumbing to their injuries at or on the way to hospital. Officials said that the ages and genders of the victims were not yet known.

Though Qatar’s police chief said 12 people had been killed, a late-night press release issued by Hamad Medical Corp., said there were 11 fatalities. One person remains in critical condition, while 34 others are stable. The statement continues:

Among those receiving treatment are two female patients (a woman and a child) and 33 male patients. The nationalities of the injured currently being treated include 12 from India, nine from Nepal, five from Pakistan, two from the Philippines, two from Egypt and one each from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Yemen, Tunisia and Qatar.

Deceased

Reuters reports that a security source at the scene said two Asian children were among the dead. And a video uploaded to Instagram shows emergency responders tending to one child who appears to be unconscious next to other survivors of the accident.

Government officials said most of the deceased were of Asian or Arab descent. And contrary to initial reports, one Qatari was injured, but not killed.

Additionally, Al Jazeera reports that two Filipino citizens died and another two remain in the intensive care unit. An embassy representative told Doha News that the two men killed are Charlie de Castro and Romar Faduhilao. Their ages were not immediately available.

The Nepali embassy told Doha News that several of its nationals had been killed and injured, but that they were awaiting exact figures from Hamad Hospital.

Similarly, a spokesperson at the Indian embassy said it was still looking to confirm whether any of its citizens had been hurt. Still, at least one Indian driver was injured in the blast. He spoke to Reuters from Hamad Hospital:

“I was eating in a restaurant close by and suddenly heard a big (blast) and everything around me exploded,” Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Kareem told the news agency. “I have too much damage now, my legs are broken and my head is open.”

Thursday’s fatal blast was Qatar’s most deadly incident since the 2012 Villaggio Mall fire, which claimed the lives of 19 people, including 13 children, and once again raises questions about safety issues here.

Safety

Officials at the press conference said gas tanks in Qatar are required to be inspected annually, and offered no theories on what could have caused the one atop the restaurant to explode.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani was onsite at the accident shortly after it took place, and has pledged a full and transparent investigation.

Condolences for the victims and their families have been pouring in on social media:

Bahrain’s foreign minister also offered his condolences to Qatari citizens and expatriates alike:

Some residents have also been expressing anger and concern about safety in Qatar following this latest incident. On Twitter, a few referenced the petrol station blast that occurred last September:

The scene

This morning’s explosion occurred at 10:12 am, sparking a small fire and blowing out the windows of several adjacent buildings. Officials say the blast sprayed debris across a 50-meter radius. Several badly damaged cars – with shattered windshields and headlights dangling out of their casings – were seen being towed away from the scene around noon.

The accident prompted an entire corner of the restaurant to collapse, and large portions of the exterior wall were missing. What appeared to be a section of a second-story floor was seen dangling toward the ground precariously, surrounded by piles of damaged concrete bricks and steel support beams. Wires hung out from corners of the wall, and knocked-over Pepsi machines could be seen inside the damaged building.

It appeared to be business as usual inside most of Landmark Mall, although dozens of curious onlookers had assembled near the northern edge of the shopping center’s lot, well back from the perimeter tape strung up by security forces.

Blast

Peter Kovessy

Behind the commercial complex where the explosion occurred, Kahramaa utility workers on the scene disconnected the power at a transformer station. Like at the front of the building, the windows of the Fiore Rosso furniture store had been knocked out.

North of the site, most of the construction laborers building what one said was a new hotel had stopped working to survey the scene, either from behind a blockade manned by Al Faza security forces or from the roof of the building, and watch more than a dozen ambulances line up at the scene, more than two hours after the blast occurred.

In the wake of the tragedy, dozens of residents have headed to HMC to donate blood.

The blood donation site is located directly across the entrance to Hamad General Hospital, opposite the multi-story carpark. For more on how to donate, and where to go, see here.

Thoughts?

Note: This article has been updated to include the most recently released figures regarding those affected in the blast. The description of a video on Instagram has also been amended for accuracy.